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When Husbands Travel

Christy’s post last week got me thinking about our family dynamic.  My husband works close to home (and even from home, occasionally), but he also does a LOT of traveling for his PhD studies.  He’ll be gone for anywhere from ten days to twelve weeks at a time.  The traveling can be difficult for him, with frequent travels through international airports (and their security), sleeping on couches at friends’ houses, and eating out every day (which he hates doing).  I’ve also witnessed how it has affected our children.

It’s hard on us when our husbands have to leave on business (or TDY), but it can even be harder on the kids.  When kids are young, they have little or no concept of time.  Saying “daddy will be home in ten days” or something along those lines just doesn’t register with them.  The first time my husband left us to do some PhD work at his university (in another country), he was gone for over two months.  Ten weeks?  Seventy days?  How was I supposed to explain this?  My four year old could only count to twenty!  Fortunately, I have a dear friend who was stationed overseas a couple of years ago, and during that time, her husband was deployed three times.  Her kids were also very young at the time, and she gave me some very helpful advice to get me and the kids through those very difficult weeks away.

Make a “daddy” book: Create a mini photo album filled with pictures of dad playing and interacting with the kids.  Let the kids carry them around, or prop it up next to their bed at night, so daddy’s right there with them. Some parents have put pictures of their spouses on the kids’ pillowcases (which you can order from Snapfish).

“Count” down the days until dad gets home: Whenever my husband leaves, whether it be for a few days or weeks, we create a Jellybean Countdown Container.  As you can probably guess, we take an old jar and fill it with jellybeans, and the number of treats corresponds with the number of days that my husband is gone.  The kids get one jellybean out of the jar every day, and that way, they know that daddy’s coming home when the jar is empty!

Let the kids use things that smell like dad: I would let my son use dad’s cologne if he wanted to smell like daddy.  Just dab a little on his wrist or spray his shirt, and he was good to go.  I, too, would occasionally use his cologne, spray one of his flannel shirts, and sleep in it at night.

Give them “kisses” from daddy: As an extra comfort measure, I would fill a jar with Hershey’s Kisses and place it on top of the counter.  Any time the kids got hurt or really sad, they would get a “kiss” from dad.

Skype before bed: If your husband’s involved with the kids’ bedtime routines, arrange for him to call around bedtime.  He can tell the kids a story (or, in our case, my son can tell HIM a story), sing them a song, etc.  If your husband is in a place where he can’t do this, have him record a few videos reading the kids’ favorite books.  Then, play the videos at night so daddy can read them a story before bed.

Does your husband travel a lot for work?  How do you handle this time in your house?

Related posts:

Trina’s post about being a (temporary) single mom

Five Ways to Encourage Second Language Development

Studies have shown that fostering a second language in your child has extremely positive cognitive and cultural advantages. However, as most of us live in a mono-linguistic society, it can be difficult to start and maintain language learning.  Less than 10% of all Americans can speak a second language fluently.  Also, the amount of exposure to a second (or third) language will vary drastically from place to place.  As a former resident of South Texas and Southern California, I probably had much more exposure to Spanish than, say, someone from Caribou, Maine.  Now that I’m a mom, and I live overseas in a non English-speaking environment, I’ve seen firsthand some of the trials and triumphs of learning another language – the things that work, and the things that don’t.  For the mom who doesn’t want to wait until high school to get her child started with a new language, I’d like to share a little bit of my experience in this area.

Educational Programming

I’m sure many of us wonder, how much are all these hours of watching “Dora the Explorer” really helping my child learn a second language? There are a variety of opinions on this subject, with shows like Dora the Explorer and Go Diego Go! continually gaining popularity.  Some linguists think that these shows should not offer the English alongside Spanish, and that by doing so, they are actually inhibiting a child’s language learning ability.  Their reasoning is children don’t think like adults when it comes to language learning.  Kids can hear the word vaca, for example, and automatically associate it with a cow without hearing it reinforced in English.  Others believe that these shows are a great introduction to foreign language, and give parents an opportunity to interact with their child in another language.  I tend to side with this opinion.  My son has learned some basic Spanish skills from these shows, which is helpful when he interacts with my husband’s side of the family.  While this is by no means a complete education, it gives the child a great chance to learn the different sounds that exist in another language and to construct a few basic sentences in that language.


When we first moved overseas, I was so frustrated at how resistant my son was to learning Arabic.  Then, his teacher at preschool had the brilliant idea of loaning us a CD with some children’s songs in Arabic.  My son LOVES them!  He can do all the dance moves that go along with the songs, and he has learned body parts, animals and verbs by listening to one CD.  He’s even starting to teach his sister some of the things he knows.


For the parent who wants to do more in-depth learning, tutors are available to help kids learn another language.  These programs usually take place after school for an hour or two a week, and they can involve intense, one-on-one language learning or group learning.  Ask the head of the language department at your local high school (or university) if there are any programs like that available in your area.  For us, tutoring has proven extremely valuable.  We are NOT native speakers here, and while we can help our son a bit, he doesn’t really like speaking with us in Arabic – and to be honest, he doesn’t learn very much!  Having a native speaker who talks to him only in Arabic has really improved his communication skills.

Language Education Programs

Did you know that there are foreign language immersion schools in the US?  Right now, there are over 200 of these special schools located throughout the United States.  Some teach completely in a foreign language, some have some classes in English and some in the foreign language, and some are “two-way” programs with a mixture of native and non-native English speakers learning from each other as well as their teachers.

Being Creative

Sometimes, we have to step out of our comfort zone to get this going and try to get those brain muscles working, too!  There are places that offer mom & child language learning programs to help those of us that want to take an active role in the language learning process.  For those of us that have a bilingual family, having each parent speak in their native tongue can cause language learning to be a little slow in the beginning, but has tremendous benefits long term.  If you feel comfortable doing this, ask abuela or abuelo to speak with your child only in Spanish.  I knew someone who made a deal with her neighbor – my friend spoke only English to her neighbor’s kids when they came over, and her neighbor spoke only Spanish to the kids when they were at her house.  Pretty neat, huh?  There are endless possibilities in this category if you want to get your child rolling with a second language!

Some more information:

Kids Source has a great FAQ page about the benefits of children learning a second language

Center for Applied Linguistics home page

Healthy teeth, happy mommy!

dentistWhen I was in college, I started a job at a pediatric dental office.  I continued working there after I graduated, until we moved overseas. I did a lot of admin stuff as well as chair-side (assisting the hygienist or the doctor), and I loved how so many parents brought their kids to our office and asked great questions about dental health. Here are a few things I learned from the doctors during my years there:
1. Limit snacking – This is the main cause of tooth decay. During mealtime, our mouth produces enough saliva to keep our teeth relatively clean (we still need to brush though!), but snacking on sugary foods in between meals will “feed” the bacteria in your mouth, which produce the acid that can eat away at the tooth enamel and cause decay. It’s important to limit snacks to fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, and dairy (plain yogurt, eggs, and cheese are your best choices). Candies are of course on the “rarely/never eat” list, but many parents were surprised to find that even carbohydrates can be dangerous if consumed frequently, especially processed foods which contain refined flour and added sugars. Granola bars, crackers, and other “weak candies” should be kept to a minimum. Amelia had a great post on snacking last year — notice how almost all of her bread-related snacks contain whole wheat flour with little or no added sugar!  In addition, beverages such as juice, soda, iced tea, flavored milks and sports drinks can lead to dental caries.  My boss always recommended diluting juices with water when giving them to kids, and limiting the amount of juice per day.  Teenagers are particularly vulnerable in this category, because many of them have terrible snacking habits.  For them, sodas, convenience foods, and breath mints are the biggest culprits of tooth decay, so try to keep these items to a minimum in your house.

2. Cavities are NOT just the result of bad brushing or snacking habits – First and second permanent molars can be deeply pitted and grooved, and occasionally, during tooth formation, the tooth enamel will not fuse completely, creating small fissures that are incredibly difficult to keep clean.  Even with good brushing and snacking habits, these teeth can get decay.  Some dentists choose to fill these early on to prevent greater problems in the future.

3. Get sealants when your dentist recommends them – One of the things I saw time and time again was a child who had been a candidate for sealants at one visit come back six months or a year later with dental caries on those teeth, and they had to have those teeth filled instead.  Usually sealants are placed on the chewing surfaces of permanent molars and premolars (bicuspids), but occasionally doctors will suggest sealants on baby molars.  Sealants generally last three to five years (although sometimes longer), and they really save you money in the long run by avoiding fillings, root canals and crowns to repair decayed teeth.  Most insurance companies cover sealants, but a few don’t.  Some parents are reluctant to get sealants because their insurance company doesn’t cover it.  I would encourage them to get their child sealants anyway; talk to your dentist about a payment plan if money is a concern.  Most offices are pretty accommodating, especially if you are an established patient there.

4. Braces are bacteria magnets! – Many teens (and preteens) just don’t have good habits when it comes to oral hygiene.   And, as it is practically impossible to give advice to teenagers without getting the customary eye-roll, talk to your dentist about showing them how to keep their teeth healthy and clean while wearing braces.  Children with braces are more likely to develop tooth caries and/or experience early gum recession due to poor brushing and flossing habits.  Personally, I’ve noticed that young teen boys (around age thirteen or so) are the worst when it comes to keeping their braces clean, but I’ve witnessed this in a few girls as well.  As a former wearer of braces, I know how difficult it can be to keep those babies clean, but fortunately there are a wide range of products to aid us in this area.  My personal favorite is Waterpik’s Power Flosser.

5. Children with good brushing and snacking habits usually grow up to be teenagers and adults with good oral hygiene – The earlier your child learns the importance of brushing, flossing, and healthy snacking, the more likely they are to continue these habits into adulthood.

I feel like I could write a whole book on this subject, but I’ll stop for now.  I might continue this post with a second installment if anyone’s interested.  So, what about you?  What are some important lessons you’ve learned from the dentist about your child’s dental health?

For more information:

TMC article: Last June, McKenna wrote about surviving your child’s first dental visit.

Website:  Keeping Your Child’s Teeth Healthy at Kidshealth.org

Book: Eat This, Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide

Photo courtesy of .imelda

Curbing the Over-Indulgent Habits of Grandparents

Please welcome my friend and Guest Writer, Sharon, as she fills in for the traveling Amelia in the upcoming weeks. Sharon is an American currently living in the Middle East with her husband and two children.

grandma and childMost of us have been there.  We arrive at Grandma and/or Grandpa’s house for a week long visit, only to find ourselves in a precarious situation.  Why?  Because your parents (or your spouse’s parents) are standing at the door, greeting your kids with one or more of the following:
a) Large bags of candy
b) Several new toys
c) The latest “cool” techno-gadget
d) A week of planned excursions to expensive theme parks, malls, etc.

The week progresses, and every time you turn around, your child has a new toy or outfit.  On one hand, you think, hey, it’s only for a week, then we get back to our normal lives. And this is true, to an extent.  But what happens when this becomes habitual?  Every time you visit them, or every time they visit you, the kids are lavishly spoiled by their grandparents.  Or what happens when the kids start to demand things from Grandma or Grandpa?  Ugh, no one wants to be in that position.

This has happened to us on a few occasions.  We have the unique position of being parents to the only grandkids on either side of the family (hubby is an only child, I’m the oldest and, until recently, the only married one).  In addition to that, our family lives overseas, so any opportunity the grandparents get to spend with the grandkids is rare and precious, and the presents can be a bit over-the-top at times.  What do we do?  Fear not, ladies!  There are a few ways we, as moms, can handle out-of-control gift-giving.

For starters, we need to accept this fact: in general, grandparents WILL spoil their grandchildren.  There’s really nothing we can do about it.  Now, before anyone thinks I have a defeatist’s attitude toward this particular subject, I want to point out that I think that we CAN influence the AMOUNT of spoiling that occurs and make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.  None of us wants to have kids that are ungrateful (especially to our own parents!), so it’s important that we approach it from two sides:

  1. Your kidsRemind them to say “please” and “thank you” when requesting or receiving something from your (or your spouse’s) parents.  It’s really easy to teach kids manners when we are around teachers, friends, and even strangers, but the family arena seems to be the first place where politeness jumps out the window.  Reminding kids about simple manners before they visit their grandparents can work wonders, and help your kids to remember to be thankful.  If your concern is limiting the number of toys in the house, let the child(ren) know that, from now on, for each new toy they get from grandma or grandpa, they have to choose one of their older toys to give away to charity.
  2. The grandparents – This is the tough one, because some grandparents will react defensively, especially if approached in a confrontational manner.  Start by thanking them for being so loving toward your children, and that their generosity is really appreciated by you. Then let them know you noticed how they much they like to buy things for your kids, and ask them if they’d be willing to redirect their giving.  It doesn’t take much to “spoil” my kids (as they’re still fairly young), so if my mother, for instance, decided to give my kids a personal DVD player just for fun, I would consider that over-the-line.  One way we avoid this in our household is by suggesting toys/games that our children would like to have, ones that seem a little more reasonable in price or quantity. That way, the kids get toys they want, and grandma and grandpa still get to have their fun.  Ask them to save bigger presents for birthdays or Christmas.  If you want to nip the toy-buying in the bud all together, suggest that your parents or in-laws come over with a little present, like a small candy bar or lollipop (or iTunes gift card for older kids), and they can put money in their savings account or college fund.

In the event where grandpa or grandma is not willing to change his/her behavior, there are a few options.  The first one, limiting visits (especially for grandparents who live in the same town), is something I would call for in an extreme situation, where your concern is your child’s safety.  Grandparents allowing young children to watch rated R movies after they’ve been asked not to, for example, would warrant a reaction like that.  Most of us (hopefully) will not encounter this problem.  Another approach is one I mentioned, having your children give away old toys for each new one that they receive.  Or, get a bag of toys and take it over to grandma’s house the next time you visit.  Let her know that the kids have too many toys at the house, and so you’re bringing some extras to stay at her house.  After a few garbage bags full of toys, grandma and grandpa will get tired of the clutter, and probably get the hint.

So, have you ever encountered this problem?  How did you handle it?  What was your parents’ (or in-laws’) reactions?

Photo courtesy of garden beth

More about our Guest Writer:  Sharon was born in Southern California, spent a bit of time in Hawaii, then moved to Texas for ten years, where she met her husband and had her first child.  She now lives in the Middle East with her hubby and two kids, ages 5 and 2.  Her favorite tea is Earl Grey, and favorite dessert is any cupcake from Sprinkles.  She loves learning new languages (currently working on Arabic), traveling, and cooking.


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